A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: T.L.C.

The Poda Poda of Airlines and Hotels

Where to go and where not to go!

I still cant find the words to describe kambia so I'll come back to it at some point (hopefully!) It is our last day in Freetown and we are still at Hotel Barmoi where the staff have kindly offered to let Joseph sleep in the room past check out. Ismail is taking advantage and napping also. I'm lapping up the baby free time by pool with a Savanna Dry wishing I hadn't packed my bathers already. Poor Joseph was unwell yesterday and cried and screamed for a few hours. My heart broke for him,especially as he couldn't tell me what was wrong, I suspect he had a tummy ache and felt nauseous. Thankfully it passed and he was back to himself but it was a difficult day for us both, particularly as Ish was in town until late sorting out passport and working around African time trying to get home! African time would be the hardest thing for me to get used to if we lived here, bucket washes with cold water I can handle, intermittent power is not that big a deal, but people coming hours late drives me bonkers. I hate waiting for people when it's only thirty minutes to an hour, but constant lateness to that extent is so grating!  I guess you just adapt and constantly run late yourself, but then how does anyone ever manage to keep an appointment or get anything done? 

I'm trying not to think about all the things we didn't get to see and instead plot ways of getting back here sooner rather than later. If we can find a way before November, Joseph will still travel free though he will be pretty big for a lap passenger on the forty hour trip! funnily enough, I am more nervous of the sea coach that will take us over to Lungi than the long flight home. That boat still scares me and I'm not sure if it will be better or worse during the day when we can see everything whizz ing by. Last night was very relaxing here, we sat outside and enjoyed the fish buffet and the hotel jazz band (think jazz with a distinct Afro/reggae feel). Joseph was adorable getting up and dancing to the music. In fact he started dancing before the band started playing. As soon as he saw them carrying the guitar and drums downstairs he was bopping away! If anyone is looking for accommodation in Freetown, I cannot recommend Hotel Barmoi and the Jam Lodge more highly. Hotel Barmoi is more upper market, right by the beach not far from Aberdeen and Lumley with all the facilities you could hope for, The Jam Lodge is over in Congo Cross just west of town and more homely and affordable but with intermittent electricity and bathrooms that are perfectly fine but not swish and immaculate like Barmoi! Both have friendly staff, comfortable rooms and superb management/owners. It's always a good sign when the manager will play with your toddler and take them for a walk and a dance! 

Sadly I cannot recommend the Lungi Airport Hotel with its incompetent staff that are unable to provide information about the range of rooms and facilities over the phone, nor take a phone reservation, instead insisting on an email in a place where Internet and electricity are so sporadic. The room we booked turned out to only have a single bed, at $90 and the next room up was $175. Had we been told that seven hours earlier when we asked we would have looked into other options close to the airport. One would hope, for that money,  you would get hot running water, friendly and helpful staff and rooms not full of Mosquitos despite the air con. But no, that would be too much to ask! the room was perfectly fine, the bathroom old and grubby and the previous guests rubbish hadn't been cleared. To their credit, they printed our tickets for us free of charge and had complimentary wifi at about dial up speed. The taxis are also in on the highway robbery charging between 20,000 and 30,000 Leones for the five minute trip (a trip across town in hideous traffic in a charter Taxi is only about 10,000 and in a shared taxi 2,000, and those are foreigner rates, might pay less as a local, not sure!) We paid for the hotel in Leones and it worked out to be an extra 40,000 above the official rate, when I questioned this the girl at the desk informed me they have a fixed rate that does not reflect changes to the actual exchange rate. Of course! They also don't take credit card which surprises me considering they are the main gateway hotel to the country. They tried to tell me that nowhere does, yet Hotel Barmoi manages to accept cards,take telephone reservations, offer service with a smile and provide updated exchange rates for guests. Dr Sheku, I think you need to take over and make visitors' first and last impressions a good one!

Ah, back at Ghana airport after taking the Poda Poda of airlines, Asky! They aren't too bad, just small, cramped and with very average food, but you know what, that is what jet star is like and I'd like to know what their excuse is, they aren't operating in Africa! It was nice not to be rushing to get our bags and checking on to the next flight but it's the goldilocks of transit times, first was too short, this one is too long. We have entertained ourselves by heading down to the arrivals area to change money and order food, done some shopping and had a coffee. Only a couple hours left until boarding, must be beer o'clock! The boat to Lungi was nowhere near as bad in daylight, having reference points made it seem slower, plus it wasn't as choppy with the huge bumps like the first time. Still a long way to go until we arrive home and I'm not sure how any of us are going to cope but at least we have each other and heads full of incredible memories of our whirlwind trip. I will try to piece together the Kambia leg when I get home, because it was certainly something to write home about!

Posted by T.L.C. 02:51 Comments (0)

OrphFund Children's Village in Tombo

Seeing is believing

sunny 35 °C

We are travelling back to Freetown after a visit out to the Orphfund children's village in tombo. Collins, the Sierra Leone manager picked up up from our guesthouse and we made our way through the crazy Freetown streets from west to east. Though it was a hot and slow trip across town we got to travel up Kissy rd, the street where Ismail grew up  so I was able to see his childhood home in passing. The traffic made Melbourne peak hour look like a Sunday afternoon cruise as it combined with roadworks, street vendors, carts, three wheelers and broken down vehicles. Once we had passed the outskirts of Freetown we moved more swiftly, though at times I wish we did slow down as the scenery was superb! To our right rose lush green mountains behind open land or residential areas and out to our left stretched the water. I snapped away anyhow, hopefully we got a few good shots. Tombo wasn't far, only about an hour or so and we travelled through Waterloo which we were familiar with as we travelled that way going to York. As soon as we arrived in Tombo the driver turned up a dirt road and we travelled past a school, a large communal area, some houses and stalls and the Belamy Soccer Academy, a school and training facility started by Craig Bellamy, another inspirational venture out here. As always, the exquisite mountains towering in the back drop. It was beautiful, that earthy combination of lush greens and rich reds that I fell in love with when we first flew in. When the children's village came into view I teared up (because that's what I do pretty regularly now it would seem,) I recognised the buildings and shipping container from photos I had seen and even uploaded on the OrohFund website back home. The shipping container in particular made me emotional as I had been involved in collecting items from friends,family and even my students at Resurrection. To see it there made it all seem real, made it so worthwhile. 

When our vehicle pulled up we were surrounded by the inquisitive and excited children. Joseph had been asleep but woke up and sat there bleary eyed looking at the smiling faces in front of him. Before long he cracked a grin and came out to show off and play! We were introduced to Osman, the house manager and we introduced ourselves to as many of the children as we could as they mobbed around us! They called out hello and welcome so gleefully  which just filled my heart with much joy because really we are just blow ins, we may have done a bit to support OrphFund but it is a drop in the ocean in the scheme of things and matters little on a conscious level to the children. The children were so keen to ask us questions, particularly about Joseph and his background, name and where he comes from. Osman and Collins showed us around the village starting with the Girls dormitory which contained beds with mosquito nets and brightly coloured blankets that had been sent in the container, tables for the girls to play, study or snack, filing cabinets to store things and another small table area with a map of the world and some other resources. The next small building was the store house/volunteer quarters. It was made from packed mud and wire framing (which couldn't be seen) and was noticeably cool as we stepped inside. As there were no volunteers, donated goods were being kept and sorted there. Im not sure if they were the last items from the container of if they were new goods, I should have asked. When we get home we will be looking into shiping options to send stuff for family, OrphFund and Hope Academy, if anyone has contacts, please please pass them on! Next we went around the back of the buildings to see the great showers they had set up with bamboo walls for privacy, a timber platform to stand on and a bucket with shower nozzle attached. Back around the front we saw the boys dormitories next, almost identical to the girls and the central rotunda. I need to find out what they are called, because these covered circular meeting spots are a feature of every village, church and compound. 

Collins and Osman then took us out to a cleared section at the very front of the property and showed us where they hope to build a school for the children. At the moment,children attend the village school in two shifts, half in the morning and half in the afternoon. The alternate time is spent in lessons at the children's village. The cost of sending them to the school is high though and takes away funds that could be used for the children's health care, food, clothing and general well being. This is why they want to build their own, a significant outlay of funds now for longer term gains. I said I will spread the word and se if we can boost funds to make this dream come true sooner. After our tour, we took some time to just hang out with the children, sing some songs, do the hokey pokey and wander all around! Joseph had an absolute ball hamming it up for them and they enjoyed picking him up, sharing their mangos and chasing him around! We took some great photos and the children took some too. We will definitely email them copies and also post prints, a letter and some gifts. What struck me the most was how happy and relaxed the children were. Given the variety of backgrounds they come from (OrphFund cares for the most vulnerable orphans in rural areas) it was obvious how much work the staff put in to create a safe space for them and foster a sense of belonging and community. A true inspiration. It is so rare to support a charity and have the chance to go see their work firsthand, I am honoured and humbled by this opportunity and my commitment to their work has been strengthened even more. For anyone who is looking to support an organisation, i cannot encouragebyou enough to consider OrphFund. They are a small organisation that do a huge amount of great work in Sierra Leine, Uganda, Kenya and Cambodia. Run by literally a handful of volunteers, they care fir more orohans in Sierra Leone than any other organsiation, now thats saying something! They rely on volunteers, keep their costs and overheads to a minimum and guarantee that 100% of funds raised go to the projects. Like them on Facebook, have a look at their website and if you can spare even a few dollars, send it their way www.orphfund.org.

I was incredibly sad when it was time to go. We had so little time to get to know the staff and children and while I desperately want to return to this country, it is such a long way and most certainly not cheap, who knows how long it will take us to make the journey once more. Having our time at the village cut short also hurt because it was a reminder of why our trip had been halved in the first place. Initially we had planned to spend some days at the different OrphFund projects but with only two and a bit weeks, most of it taken up with memorial commitments,  it was just not possible. I don't want to go home at all. Going home means facing the reality of my father no longer being there, it means packing up his house and finding a way to move forward without him. It means leaving my new found family and friends and going home to so much unknown. I also don't want to go home as it feels like our holiday has only just started after the intensity of the last few weeks.

We returned from Kambia on Monday afternoon and the remainder of the day was a write off. We showered away the days of grime, rested our feet and indulged in some western food and air con. A visit to the delightful Aliea and Natu turned into a funny ordeal as Ismail got bitten by Jaguar the dog while trying to save him and Joseph got bitten on the face by his little friend Sheku. Im walking around cautiously in case I'm next on the  bite hit list! Tuesday was a day of plans gone awry (I see a pattern there actually, plans are pointless in this place and time) but included some good coffee, lovely catch up time with Ismail's sister Asanatu and her son Nicolo. The weight lifted from my shoulders that night when we ventured up to Hill Station for a dinner party at Sophie's home. She was very close to Ismail growing up and kindly invited all the family and friends for a going away dinner before Cecilia, Iyesa and Ishy flew back to the states on Wednesday. We had such a fun night with food that melted in your mouth, vodka and champagne and unbeatable company. Sophie's home is beautiful, not too unlike the larger modern homes  here, but she had a real flare for decorating and it is stylish and open yet warm and homely as well. As I sat back in the comfy Wicca chair with my triple shot vodka and cranberry juice (I didn't ask for it, perhaps the new lines on my face told the drinks boy i needed it!) I sighed and realised I felt lighter, I could finally relax. We had taken Joseph with us and he slept happily in Sophie's room while we ate, drank and mingled, such a huge luxury for us to be baby free under normal circumstances, exactly what we needed in these. 

In our last few days were staying at Hotel Barmoi, owned by Dr Sheku, Natu's father and someone that Ismail grew up with like a brother. It is a little oasis in Aberdeen overlooking the water with a couple of swimming pools, 24 hour electricity and running water, comfortable beds, pillows without lumps, a restaurant and bar, wifi and courteous helpful staff that run around after Joseph for a few minutes while I drink my coffee. I had to laugh, when he went to bed one of the staff came up shaking her head about our little explorer that doesn't sit still! She said she has never seen a child quite like it and i have my work cut out for me! He has gained the nickname trouble maker everywhere we go, thankfully he is so charming and sweet too because they love him in spite of his mischievous ways!  Between the stress of organising dads funeral and saying goodbye, rearranging our flights here, beginning the process of packing the house, keeping up with uni, travelling with a toddler, organising the memorial for Ismail's mother, saying goodbye once more, rearranging our flights home after the airline changed their schedule days before departure and the more general hiccups of travel in africa, I'm ready to come up for air and see some light. "It's always darkest before the dawn" and it has indeed been dark with flashes of light by way of love, laughter and joy. I hope dawn has broken because my faith has been tested to limits I never thought I had. We are stronger than we know and after everything, I still have the audacity to believe, in myself, in my partner, in my family, in possibilities for peace and justice and in the chaotic yet beautiful world around me. 

Posted by T.L.C. 05:56 Archived in Sierra Leone Comments (1)

Higgeldy Piggeldy Charm

Journey out to Kambia

sunny 34 °C

We are on our way to Kambia after a comedy of errors! We were assured that there would be plenty of room in the car for all of us to go but I was dubious. What regular passenger vehicle was going to fit  six adults, three children and all their luggage? On top of that I just had an awful gut feeling about carrying Joseph on my lap and put my foot down about going in a vehicle that would accommodate his car seat. When the car came to collect us from the hotel I realised how ridiculous the proposition was and gave poor Ish death stares.  Afterwards i just laughed because even without the car seat there was just no way we would fit and really why should I be surprised, firstly TIA (this is Africa) and secondly, plans have fallen by the wayside left right and centre so why change now! Perhaps it was divine intervention, it gave us another night with Aliea and Natu to get to know each other better, learn more about the school and brainstorm ideas for future campaigns etc  and a spacious four wheel drive all to ourselves the following day!

Money still hasn't been kind to us and after attempting to get money from the bank teller using my Visa card without luck I ended up using the ATM. Unfortunately you can only get out a small amount each transaction and I had to make about six of them. I won't even look at the fees when I get home, I hate to imagine, but we had no alternative as we needed cash. Funnily, Natu told me later the very same ATM refused to give her money as it was empty, we must have cleaned it out!

Our borrowed driver is great because he  reminds me of an african version of my dad with his striped polo shirt, baseball cap and petite build. Lucky, as his tendency to drive on the wrong side of the road was unnerving rather than a comforting reminder of home! The drive was wonderful, two and half hours on perfectly sealed road through villages, past rivers and mountains! The villages were quite close together near Freetown and got further apart as we went on. They varied in size and dwelling types. Some were filled with houses made of packed earth, others mud bricks, some entirely thatched with tinge or bamboo scaffolding. In some villages, homes only had one or two rooms while others were much more spacious. It certainly made me feel extravagant wishing we had an extra bedroom for the kids! In the bigger villages and at junctions or bridges, market stalls lined the street selling everything from clothes, passport photos, shoes, mobile recharge to food and drinks! Stalls were mostly pretty simple timber structures with woven or thatched roofs, some looked more permanent than others. There were of course roaming sellers everywhere with their goods on their heads, backs or arms. I took photos along the way but once we had stopped at a couple checkpoints and one lane bridges I could no longer get a good shot through the glass from the little marks by faces pressed up against it to see the interesting assortment of passengers inside!

The house is Kambia is huge and in a large compound which is great for the kids to run around on the one hand but the four flights of big tiled stairs inside and ditches surrounding  the house outside make me so nervous on the other. We are staying here with Ish's sisters, aunt, nieces, nephews and some drivers and helpers. The part of me that loves creature comforts really wishes I had been given the heads up that we would need to bring sheets, pillows and an adaptor to use the tantalising yet still fan, and that we really didn't need to be there for another couple days. What are you going to do though. The view from the roof is outstanding and we watched the sun slowly set over the lush green fields and the bridge into Guinea. They better have an Ebola barrier there because truth be told it is far too close for my liking. I think I'm just tired and really missing dad at the moment because although I can still laugh about everything there is a little girl in me that wants to scream about sleeping on a rolled up towel, being here in the heat so unnecessarily early  and chasing Joseph up and down stairs every waking minute. The other part, thankfully the bigger part, is grateful that my baby boy is sleeping peacefully, the fan is now working, albeit pitifully, and we got to be here in Sierra Leone for the memorial even after everything that has happened in recent weeks. Somehow it also makes it easier that I'm not the only one frustrated about the situation, having people to vent and laugh with helps, especially when there is no way out and no alternative. It seems like everyone's cursing and shaking their heads behind closed doors! When I wake up it will be Good Friday, I'm not sure how or why it will be significant but I know it will be.

The town is lovely, we are staying in Kambia 1, the older part of town that our Bradt guide describes as higgeldy piggeldy streets as compared to Kambia 2, the newer part with "gentrification" happening. I personally prefer higgeldy piggeldy Kambia 1 with its dirt roads, mud brick houses with thatched roofs interspersed with the old war large torn homes with their concrete columns and decorative balustrades, water stations with safe water coming from taps, children playing, ladies washing, people chatting and animals roaming. The new part of own was just a dusty transport junction with some stalls, shops and rows and rows of beat up taxis and poda podas. perhaps the back streets are gentrified, i didn't check! Kambia 1 is a quiet place where things don't move in the frantic manner of Freetown and I wish we were here on true vacation because I could see myself thoroughly enjoying wandering around the town playing with kids, getting to know the locals and seeing where my mother and father in law met,  and built a prosperous life for themselves and their family. Instead we are in some kind of frantic organisation process where nothing seems to actually happen, or does it? I don't know to be honest. With all the insanity around me I'm sometimes glad I don't fully understand what's happening, I can be blissfully unaware of the the family and town politics and focus on chasing Joseph and watching him have a ball with his cousins!

Posted by T.L.C. 15:14 Archived in Sierra Leone Comments (0)

I don't just hope, I believe!

The Hope Academy for Girls - Sierra Leone

Where there is a will there is a way
Tuesday morning we set out with Aliea and Natu to go visit the Hope Academy for Girls in York! I was so excited to be finally seeing the grounds and first stages of the school we have worked so hard to raise money for, it is a project that has worked its way deep under my skin. The school has taken on even more significance for me , and perhaps it is silly, but the dates of international fundraisers coinciding with the passing of my father and the fortieth day after Ismail's mother had passed, somehow these correlations made the cause all the more personal. My father missed out on completing his schooling when he escaped from Croatia yet he was one of the most intelligent people I knew. Because of his limited schooling, he instilled me the importance of education and made me believe that I truly could do anything I set my mind to regardless of our postcode or my gender. I did not even understand the disparity between men and women until I was an adult and, truth be told, I did not appreciate the implications until becoming a mother. Sierra Leone has become an integral part of my story, and my passion for education as an equalising force and foundation of opportunities, good health, long life and empowerment make my commitment to the girls school in rural Salone seem inevitable.

So off we went in our comfortable ride, travelling in a counter intuitive direction up past Regent and Waterloo, through Tombo and on to York which is actually closer to Freetown than the previous places but the road is better going the longer way. The trip itself was fascinating, Aliea and Natu are such strong and compassionate woman and gladly shared numerous stories about the region and their lives in Sierrra Leone. We drove past the hill station area which had been home to the colonial officials back in the day and I was struck by the similarities to the colonial hill stations of India. For a group of people that had the audacity up come take over nations around the world they lacked the tenacity to handle the climates they encountered. The British influence is still part of the peninsula with villages named Hastings, Kent etc. the roads on the other hand bear the mark of Chinese engineering and construction nouse. A different kind of colonisation? Apparently it is Chinese prisoners building the roads out here, some community service eh! Not sure how I feel about that! As always, a journey is so much more than the destination but it would be a whole other blog to include the details of the stories and villages we passed!

As we pulled up at the school building site I could feel the tears welling up. I saw the sign that I recognised from the photos, the building reaching roof height and the surrounding grounds and mountains in the background. Images I had seen hundreds of times while trying to get sponsors and donations but it was surreal being there in person. We took the obligatory photos by the sign ad then began a walk through as Aliea explained the different rooms an we tried to visualise them completed with staff and students. We walked through the offices, the staff room, store room, classrooms, toilets and change rooms and heard details about how many girls would begin and how it would grow. Next we walked out into the grounds and were shown where the gardens would be, one a botanical garden and another a market garden to provide food, knowledge and life skills for the girls teaching them about the local vegetation, how to grow and how to turn into nutritious and affordable meals.

The vision for the school is so much more than just education for at risk girls. The curriculum will be the national Sierra Leone curriculum rather than an international one with a focus on civics ad social studies to encourage a sense of pride of country in the girls and social justice. it will ensure they know their rights and their history. This seems to be important because the sieerra leoneams ive met who returned here have all said how much it has changed and that the thing that seems to be lacking is a sense of pride and wanting to support others. Of course such a huge gap between the haves and have nots is goings to breed an attitude of scarcity and to each their own but what might really make a difference is cooperation and pride in self, community and country. The girls will learn vocational skills including hospitality, tourism, needlework and traditional tie dying to make gara cloth. There will also be education for parents in healthy eating and living, reading and writing so they can support their families, outreach program's and adult learning program's. The idea being you really do educate and empower the whole village not just the students.

I hate to say it, because I have loved my time here and I've loved the people, but from purely a travellers point of view, there is something missing. Accommodation is expensive, in part due to high costs of running generators but also inflated prices due to foreign workers on high salaries. Basic customer service is lacking, I'm not talking incredible Balinese standards but simple things like asking what you want for breakfast without you having to go into the kitchen to ask. The beaches are incredible as are the natural, untouched beauty forests, national parks and lakes. But the travel is hard work over rough roads and expensive unless you use local transport (which we would gladly do for just us two but not so keen going long distances with Joseph in a Poda Poda). I'm just not sure people without a connection to Salone will make the effort and pay the price, particularly when they are competing with the big hitters Botswana, Kenya, Ghana etc. I keep thinking of some of the initiatives and travel options in Cambodia and how they might work well here. They do tourism really well there in spite of still developing and rebuilding post war. Things like a half day cooking school where someone takes you to the market, teaches you about the food, helps you haggle then shows you how to prepare local dishes before sharing a meal together a a group, historical walking tours around the city to hear stories of the freed slaves and other settlers, organised and environmentally sustainable treks through natural areas. Ok now I sound like an imperialist which is not what I want. There is just so much potential in this country everywhere you look, I want people to be able to come and love it the way I do! There are some sensational community groups around the country promoting eco tourism and using the funds to support members of the local community, river number two is one such organisation and they are expanding that around the peninsula. I hope it continues because i feel that the people who come here will be looking for something different to a beach resort and something that is respectful of the people, culture and environment. Talk about a tangent, I started with the girls school!!!

Back to the school. we walked around the grounds and I was lulled into a false sense of security thinking there were cleared paths the whole way round but no, we walked through thick scrub and I ended covered in dust and scratches, glad we posed for photos beforehand! It's a large area though and you can see the potential for building each stage and including gardens and recreation areas. Different officials from the area stopped by to say hello and tell us what an amazing job Aliea Kamara is doing, it was great to see the support she received and the hope that she has brought to the village. We joked that we were travelling with a rock star! She is indeed a star though, jokes aside! There is still work to be done to complete stage one of the school and it is essential the roof is completed before the rainy season comes. This is part of the reason everyone has worked so hard to raise funds at this time. At last count, the latest fundraiser efforts have combined to raise around $8000 so we are getting to our target but still more is needed. When we get back we will be having a sausage sizzle at masters and I plan on make it the biggest sizzle masters has ever seen ;) Having met the family behind the school I am an even bigger supporter because their passion and dream is backed by well thought out plans and initiatives.

I wish we had more time in this country. It has been so rushed and I have only scratched the surface of a tiny little dot in the map. I wish we had time to explore the different shades of sand along the peninsula, to watch people going about their business in the small fishing villages, to go easy and see the mining industry at work, north to the rural provinces where Krio is spoken after tribal languages. So much to see and so little time.

Posted by T.L.C. 15:33 Archived in Sierra Leone Comments (0)

Wear Your Palm Sunday Best!

Great sights, great food great company, a recipe for joy

sunny 33 °C

Today is Palm Sunday and it has been another wonderful day in Sweet Salone. It started with a surprise wake up to Joseph standing beside the bed laughing, he has learned how to unzip his kinderkot and waddle out in his sleeping bag it would seem, very clever, shame it was 6am! We made the most of our early wake up and went into town to have a look at some of the sights. First stop was the Cotton tree, an enormous tree that stands in the middle of a busy round about close to the centre. The story behind it is that in 1792 a group of african american slaves gained their freedom by fighting for the British in the war of independence, walked up from the shore and held a thanksgiving service under the tree (thanks Wikipedia!) Regardless of whether the story is true,  the tree is an important symbol and place in Freetown and people still leave offerings and pray there. 

Stop number two was St Johns Maroon church just down the road but not before some breakfast of tapalapa bread with sardines, sadly my much anticipated sardines turned out to be ONE relatively expensive sardine hidden away in the bread with the remainder of the tin tucked away safely in the seller's Tupperware container to quadruple his profits! Lucky it was a tasty sardine! The church was lovely, a little white building with pretty plants around the outside and big palm leaves on the door. Inside were a pile of bibles, ladies with lilac skirt suits and matching hats (think driving miss daisy style rather than traditional African style) and rows of wooden pews with a backdrop of large arch windows with lead light features. We would have loved to stay for the service but Master Jojo was almost falling asleep and he would not have lasted another 45 minutes. The church is another reminder of Freetown's history, built and named by freed slaves from Jamaica and allegedly containing timber from slave ships.

Before heading home, we had a quick walk around and Ismail pointed out the hospital, police barracks and told me about where they used to live down near Kissy rd. We even saw a couple of white people walking around but they ignored my attempts to make eye contact and smile, I must have looked too threatening! The share taxi home was fun in itself, we ended up sharing with a family of four which was a little crowded but the bit that bummed me was I couldn't reach my camera to sneak some snaps of the masses of people on their way to church wearing their absolute Palm Sunday best traditional outfits. It was truly an amazing sight, a sea of colour against the often dusty and drab construction sites of the city. Though the major of people in sierra leone are Muslim, there is also a significant Christian population and today was an important day.

So important a day, we ended up having a look at the Pentecostal church next door to our hotel, we couldn't resist the music drifting across and Joseph wasn't looking like sleeping anyhow. So we attended the service! We sang, clapped, danced, listed to the Word, chased Joseph around the back. It was more fun at church than I've had in the longest time and I can honestly say I was really moved. It might sound crazy but I felt like dad was closer than he had been in a while and that feeling continued for the rest of the day. I could almost hear him saying "so Ismail really is a Christian, thats good, but he isn't one of those Pentecostals is he?"

Late afternoon we ventured out to visit Aliea. I had been so looking forward to meeting this inspirational woman behind the Hope Academy for Girls that we have been fundraising for. The shared taxi over was even more fun than normal, the road she lived on, if you could call it that, was steep, dirt and full of bumps and pot holes. At one point I told the taxi driver it was ok, he could drop us off at number 11 and we would walk to 31 but Ismail disagreed. I'm glad he did because it was a long way up, but I was so nervous the car was just going to slide back down. Ironically the road was called UN drive, was it a metaphor for what the UN had done? Surely not! The driver tripled the original price and complained bitterly about the damage to his car and all I  could do was giggle, perhaps out of sheer relief we made it. I was indeed grateful that he braved the road and his price was very fair.

It was wonderful to finally meet Aliea and she is just as warm, intelligent and passionate in the flesh as she has been in our communications online. We were so blessed to have a home cooked meal of salad, rice, chicken and soup which was incredibly tasty! We learned more about the girls high school she is building in York, her vision and also of the hoops she has been forced to jump through in order to get this far. She even told us that some people have laughed at her which reminded me of the quote "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." said by Mahatma Gandhi. And she will win, she is dedicated, driven and has a dream supported by good people behind her. To learn more about the project, aimed at educating the most vulnerable girls on the peninsula, have a look at the website http://www.hopeacademy.sl/about-us/Aliea herself is living proof of the lasting impact educating a girl in Sierra Leone can have.

Joseph made a dear friend while visiting and had time to run around in some big open spaces. The look of pure joy on his face melted my heart. The neighbour's little boy wandered in and Joso set upon him, giving him cuddles, shrieking with laughter at him and trying to feed him. Sheku took a little bit to warm to this strange boy accosting him but soon they were thick as thieves running around playing, jumping on couches, climbing stairs, blowing each others nose, teaching each other naughty tricks. It was an absolute joy to watch and just what they both needed. It was a late night and by the end Joso had given up asking us to go home and simply brought us his shoes and went and got our bag!

The perfect day ended with some good news and a beer on the balcony listening to the sounds of horns and music. I'd like to say the beer was the local Star brew but it's pretty ordinary, I really wanted to love it but I struggle to swallow it. Can't win them all.

Posted by T.L.C. 00:09 Archived in Sierra Leone Comments (0)

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